The sixth of 14 storylines as we approach the 2014 football season...
When we last saw the Irish in practice back in spring under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder the standard down 1st-team linebacker corps consisted of Jaylon Smith at the weak-side, a combination of John Turner/James Onwualu at the strong-side, and Joe Schmidt in the middle.
Setting aside whether those Turner or Onwualu will actually be starters on the strong-side the big question this fall is if former walk-on Schmidt is really going to hold on to a job that he grabbed tightly in the spring.
If that player won't be Schmidt then who will it be?
Jarrett Grace- Coming back from major surgery it will be amazing progress if he's participating right out of the gate for fall camp, even if he's not 100% full go. It might not be realistic but a healthy Grace could go a long way to easing the fears at this position. It'll be interesting to see where he is physically (weight, stamina, strength) beyond his broken leg because he's not really a good fit for BVG's system. If he's 100% sooner rather than later is there a chance he's just not going to work in this system?
Kendall Moore- The 5th-year senior started out spring a changed player, found some praise from coaches and players, but then receded back into the shadows for the majority of practice. I don't know if it's too late but it kind of feels like it's too late and that he'll be a special teams player and not much more. Is anyone preparing to be surprised otherwise?
Michael Deeb- The redshirt freshman has a great opportunity to grab minutes and really should be in the conversation a lot more than he has been in recent months. I'm very interested to see how well he does next month. He really improved as a senior and his physical ability shouldn't be holding him back you wouldn't think. Not that he's been on campus that long but it would be nice if he's able to pick things up mentally and make a big jump in August.
Doug Randolph- Like Deeb it feels like Randolph is waiting in the weeds a little bit and could surprise some people before the season starts. Both of these guys appear to fit the profile pretty well (6-2, 240) and had good speed in high school. Randolph physically looked the part in the spring but it remains to be seen if he'll be an option on the inside.
Ben Councell- He's coming off an injury but unlike Grace should be completely healthy when fall camp opens up. His size and skills probably keep him at the strong-side position, though. If he moved to the middle he'd be an enormously large individual for that position. I still contend that he can pull it off. In my opinion, he's a better all-around athlete than Grace and even bigger too. If Grace is still an option I would keep Councell as one as well.
Greer Martini- There is a true freshman who many are expecting to come in right away and shoot up the depth chart. Mr. Martini is not that player. He should be in the conversation for special teams minutes.
Nyles Morgan- Can he really do it? Will Morgan be able to come in during fall camp and grab the starting spot by the time the Rice game rolls around? Do we really want to see that? How nervous would that make you? He's everything you want at the position but this stuff usually takes some time.
I like Joe Schmidt and I don't automatically dismiss him because he was a walk-on. Many great players from across the country at various different programs have had legit walk-ons turns into terrific players. I don't know if Schmidt is going to blossom but I haven't hated what I've seen from him so far.
I'm not even that concerned with his size, either. It could be much worse than 230 pounds although his lack of height (6-0 1/2) is a much larger worry. He's pretty quick, he's smart, and he obviously has a leg up on the competition in the eyes of the coaching staff. Is he going to be able to hold up for an entire season? How often will he be unable to take on a block (see the main photo) and is his lack of ability in that area a necessary trade-off if he excels in other areas?
Is this situation a major worry for the defense? Maybe, but I'll tell you what I feel a lot better about the situation with Jaylon Smith next to the Mike linebacker.